As snooker began debating whether the Crucible should remain the home of the Embassy World Championship yesterday you had to hand the old venue one thing: when one fairytale ends here, another is usually coming round the corner.
Jimmy White had disappeared in a cloud of disappointment, but if central casting had dispatched someone to locate another people's champion they could not have done better than Joe Swail. Partially deaf in both ears, playing so far above himself he is in danger of needing oxygen, the only problem the spin doctors would have had was believing that the 30-year-old Irishman was for real. "Come on, you'll be telling me he is doing it for his dead mother next." Actually, he is.
Swail admits to being a young man with an addiction to good times before his mother died of cancer three years ago. "When it happened I thought: 'What are you supposed to do with the rest of your life?' The one thing she wanted was for me to do very, very well at snooker so I thought I owed it to her to get my head down and get back to the way I used to play."
"My lifestyle had to change. If I told you the sort of stuff I got up to you wouldn't believe it but whereas I'm at the club practising at 9am these days, a couple of years ago I'd be rolling in at that time. How can you expect to play snooker, especially at this level, when you are doing that? I wasn't doing myself any favours."
It would be enough to bring a tear to the eye if it was not for his unprecedented success over the last fortnight. Conspicuously unsuccessful at the Crucible beforehand, he overtook his best prize when he won his second-round match and the least he could expect was £70,000.
That figure assumes he will lose his semi-final against Matthew Stevens and after the first session that was not a certainty by any means. The bookmakers had made the 22-year-old Welshman the overwhelming favourite, but Swail, who described this tournament as "a chance in a lifetime", had matched him pot for pot and today they will resume at 4-4.
Undoubtedly, Swail will have derived more from the session because, for most of it, it appeared that he would go to sleep last night contemplating a deficit. He took the lead with a visit to the table worth 68 in the first frame, but then had to withstand Stevens moving smoothly through the gears as he won four of the next five frames. Included in that was two centuries, one of which, 143, put him in line for the £20,000 prize for the highest break.
Such potting power can pin an opponent in his seat, but Swail watched, waited and then calmly knocked in a century of his own to take the seventh frame and a 51 to take the next. The fairy-tale will endure another day at least.
While the semi-finals were in progress ,opposition to plans to move the World Championship from the the Crucible when the current contract runs out next year was growing. Stephen Hendry, world champion seven times, said the event should always be played at the venue. "When you first pick up a cue that's where you want to play," he said. "It's synonymous with all that's exciting about the game."
Mark Williams, a semi-finalist here, was equally adamant. "I think it should stay," he said. "It's been the home of snooker for so long it would feel strange going anywhere else."
There was also opposition from players nearing the end of their career, who might be more expected to appreciate better and bigger facilities. "I wouldn't want to lave the Crucible at any stage," Willie Thorne, television commentator and former top 16 player, said. "I'm convinced it would be a retrograde step. When I used to live in Sheffield I got nervous just driving past the place... and that was just in February."
The Crucible has been the home of the World Championship since 1977, but a capacity of just under 1,000 is considered inadequate and plans under consideration include incorporating several venues on a rota basis, as at the Open golf championship. A decision will be made in the autumn.
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